Use of Present Perfect and Imperfect
 
 
Unlike the imperfect, which is used to describe settings or habitual actions in the past, the present perfect (passé composé) is the tense of choice for describing events, actions which advance the narrative. Frequently the two tenses will be used in the same passage, even in the same sentence. In general, the passé composé recounts distinct events, while the imperfect describes more static or contextual elements. In general, the passé composé corresponds to the actions one might tell in a story, while the imperfect corresponds to decor or background.

Compare the use of passé composé and the imperfect in the following examples. In each case the passé composé signals the principal action of the phrase:

Or it may be used to signal the interruption of a longer action (which will usually be placed in the imperfect):  

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